By admin | January 9, 2010
By Richard Allen
Joe Gibbs Racing has three of the best young drivers in NASCAR. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are as talented as any who have come into the sport of stock car racing in quite some time. Logano is only entering his second full season as a Sprint Cup driver so it is a bit early to consider the teenager a serious threat to win a championship. However, Busch and Hamlin have now reached the time in which they should not merely be considered potential contenders, they should be expected to be contenders.
But even though Busch and Hamlin have each made their marks over the past couple of seasons at the Sprint Cup level they have each fallen short in the end. It seems as though they have each made some crucial mistake at just the wrong time to remove themselves from contention for the ultimate prize.
Once again in 2010, both are thought to be among the early favorites. Many have speculated that if any team is step forward and challenge powerful Hendrick Motorsports it will be JGR. If that is to be the case, these two drivers will need to be at the top of their games from the start of the season all the way to the finish. There can be no lapses, no unnecessary miscues and no silly mistakes.
Busch has become somewhat well known for fits of temper and flashes of immaturity. Some of those misgivings can be made up for by the driver’s incredible talent, but some cannot. There have been instances in which he has been rumored to have blown engines on purpose when frustrated. And, there have been times when he has gotten into unnecessary on-track scrapes with other drivers that have damaged his own car. These are the types of point costing things that must be avoided if he is to contend for a championship.
In 2008, Busch looked to be the favorite as drivers entered the Chase for the Championship. He had won eight times up to that point and looked unstoppable. However, after a bad race early on things only seemed to get worse as he and his team appeared to press the issue. Then, frustration set in and he never recovered.
This year some think Busch’s ownership of a Camping World Truck Series team will serve as a maturing factor for him. That could well be. And strangely enough, it could be that a certain degree of immaturity might be one of the ingredients that makes this driver stand out. Sometimes not thinking so much can be a good thing.
Hamlin is thought by many to be a title favorite in 2010. As with Busch, talent is not the question here. But as with Busch, it may be a question of not making a critical mistake at just the wrong time.
Going into a season with many thinking of a particular driver as a serious threat to win the title is not an easy thing to deal with. Just ask Carl Edwards about his 2009 season after having a stellar 2008. Hamlin has always been thought of as a contender, but not necessarily a favorite. He will have to deal with a type of pressure the likes of which he may not have dealt with before. And pressure often causes mistakes.
Last year’s race in California was an example of making a mistake at just the wrong time for Hamlin. While leading he essentially spun himself and eliminated the #11 Toyota from the race. It was not necessarily a mistake caused by immaturity, just a lapse in judgment. To beat the likes of Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the HMS crowd these mistakes have to be eliminated, or at least minimized.
Every driver has lapses and every team makes mistakes but sometimes timing is everything. Jimmie Johnson crashed last year in Texas. But that occurred after he essentially had the title wrapped up.
This year, many look to Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to lead Joe Gibbs Racing to the front of the championship pack. They have the talent. There is no question about that. But do they have the focus, the maturity and the vision of the big picture to do it?
Joe Gibbs has won championships with Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte. Will either Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin deliver yet another? Only time will tell.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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